By Rick VanSickle
It was an evening born of respect for deep family ties firmly rooted in the soils of two distinct terroirs — the Rhone Valley and the Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara.
It was a bold move for Vineland Estates to invite E. Guigal winemaker Philippe Guigal to Niagara to pour his wines beside Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt’s wines, but not surprising.
The wine club at Vineland Estate has always been “inclusive,” said Vineland Estate director of customer service David Hulley.
“We know that our guests’ cellars are not just filled with Vineland wine because our personal cellars are not exclusive to Vineland either,” he said. “Our goal is to provide a broad and genuine wine experience with Vineland Estates as the centre hub.”
Hulley said that Vineland fully expected at some point to “use our international wine contacts to make the proper introductions to our wine club.”
Convincing one of the world’s most respected winemakers to come to Niagara was a coup for Vineland but not that far-fetched when looking deep into the family connections and values that Guigal and Schmidt share.
Both winemakers pay respect to their grandfathers for pioneering modern grape growing in neglected and/or overlooked regions of great potential, said Hulley.
“An ocean and a continent separated Etienne Guigal and Frank Schmidt, and most certainly neither man knew of the other, but they were bound and connected together in ways they could not even imagine.
“Their progeny would enthusiastically follow in their footsteps and … their grandsons, both highly regarded and respected winemakers,” came together almost half way between the two founding vineyards (Frank Schmidt in the Okanagan Valley, Etienne Guigal in the Rhone Valley) at Vineland Estates.
“Tonight we celebrate Vineland’s first on-site expression of an international connection, said Hulley. “We do this through an exclusive tasting of selected wines bred from the vision of Etienne Guigal, shepherded by his son Marcel and passionately made by his grandson Philippe.”
What an exquisite night it was. Though the wines poured beside each other couldn’t have been farther apart in style that really wasn’t the point of the event.
All wines represented the unique regions where the grapes were grown — the unmistakable wines of the Northern Rhone and the terroir-driven wines of Vineland’s key vineyards, St. Urban and Bo-Teek, on the Twenty Mile Bench.
While the highlight of the evening was the stunning Côte-Rôtie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape poured on their own and the reserve wines from Vineland, the memorable “family-style” meal of endless trays of charcuterie, oysters, seared flank steak, flavourful chicken, artisan cheeses and desserts prepared by chef Justin Downes was a perfect end to a memorable event.
Guigal seemed perfectly at home as he dove into his food happily engaged in deep conversation with Schmidt and the wine club guests who were lucky enough to get a seat at the two long tables set up in the “VEW” restaurant for the event.
For Vineland Estate, there was “absolutely no hesitation” to share the stage with the legendary E. Guigal.
“To stand shoulder to shoulder with a highly recognized ‘great’ was a true honour,” said Hulley. “Philippe was also very generous with his praise for our wines and admitted openly that he was jealous of our ability and licence to pioneer, explore and iterate to find the best expression of our vineyards through varied vine selection.
“Knowing that we really do not like to boast, as the world around keeps us truly humble, we know that Vineland wines are of top international standard and are highly respected around the world. With all of the passionate, hard work that has been done over the last three decades, Vineland has humbly earned the right to share the stage with an international wine giant.”
The Guigal Estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small ancient village and cradle of the Côte-Rôtie appellation.
It shelters a unique vineyard where the vines and the wines have been famous for 2,400 years. Arriving in 1924 at 14 years old, the founder vinfied 67 harvests in Côte-Rôtie and, at the beginning of his career, took part in the development of Vidal-Fleury establishment.
In 1961, although still very young, Marcel Guigal took over management of the establishment beside his father who was stricken suddenly with total blindness. In 1973, his wife Bernadette joined him and they worked together to develop the family business. In 1975, their son Philippe was born.
He represents the third generation and continues the family work in the Northern Rhône Valley.
Guigal is renowned for making for making some of the best, and certainly most collectible, Rhone Valley wines. The three single-vineyard Côte-Rôties, the La Mouline, La Turque and La Landonne, are unsurpassed in quality (and price!) in the Rhone. While the Ex-Voto red and whites from Ermitage are dream wines collected by the rich and famous.
But Guigal also makes a range of wines accessible to most wine lovers including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone, Tavel Rose, Crozes-Hermitage (red and white), Giogondas and a regular cuvee Côte-Rôtie.
Guigal wines are well represented across the country and can be found at any given time on wine stores shelves.
See Rick’s Picks for reviews on Guigal wines and a selection of Vineland Estate wines.